Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Hand of God

Somewhere in my youth and childhood I learned a line from a poem incorrectly.  Since those years of innocence, and amidst the turmoils of my life,  I think perhaps my heart created the lines I needed.  While flying home from a recent trip our pilot flew around a spring thunderstorm of boiling cumulus clouds, giving me a moment to whisper the lines and feel my connection to God.

     "Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
     and danced the skies on silvered wings
     and done a hundred things I'd never dreamed 
     then reached out and touched the hand of God."

How many times did I listen to his poem "High Flight" as our old black and white TV signed off at 10:30 at night?  My father would have been in bed reading True Detective Magazines; mother would have been puttering around the kitchen; my little sister in bed sleeping or spying; while I closed my books on homework when the TV signed off. Sometimes I stood and saluted that pilot as he roared through the skies. I felt connected to the loss of human life during the wars, and wondered when we would go to war again and use our "bomb shelter",  buried only a few feet from our den, to survive an atomic attack from Russia.  Fear was never far from our hearts in those days of the Cold War. I needed to know that I could touch the hand of God. 

All of those memories came rushing back when my eyes
imagined touching the hand of God on this flight.  How many times in my life have I reached out for his hand, and it's Always been there for me.  

I thought it best to reread the this poem that I've carried in my heart, for heaven knows a teacher wouldn't want to write something incorrectly!  My apologies to John Gillespie Magee, Jr for learning his beautiful poem incorrectly, but somehow I think he'd understand. He truly must have seen the face of God, not his hand as I did, when he wrote, "put out my hand and touched the face of God." 

"Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed and joined the tumbling mirth of sun-split clouds -
and done a hundred things You have not dreamed of -
wheeled and soared and swung high in the sunlit silence.
Hovering there I've chased the shouting wind along
and flung my eager craft through footless halls of air.

"Up, up the long delirious burning blue
I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace,
where never lark, or even eagle, flew;
and, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
the high untrespassed sanctity of space,
put out my hand and touched the face of God."

John Gillespie Magee was an American pilot for the Royal Canadian Air Force.  In 1941 he'd flown his seventh Spitfire MK I up to 33,000 feet. As he orbited and climbed upward, the words from another poem struck him as he peered into the clouds--To touch the face of God.

Magee completed his verse soon after landing.  He then enclosed the poem (sonnet) in a letter to his parents, dated Sept 3, 1941.  On Dec. 11, 1941 at the age of nineteen his plane crashed during a training flight killing him, but not before he'd touched the face of God, I'm sure. His words and images have lived for generations, and today I feel his words more deeply than ever.

He has truly risen.

The original poem that I listened to on black and white TV can be found on You Tube (click on the link below), along with several version of John Denver's tribute to this poem.  


  1. I have always loved that poem; thank you for the bringing it back. ab

  2. I loved this, Letty. You are SO right. I, too, have reached for God's hand many, many times in my 66 years, and He has ALWAYS been there. Loved this ! ❤️🙏😍

  3. This is probably my favorite poem & I too use to listen to it as the TV station signed off. Listening to it now brings back heartfelt memories. It just happens I recently found a print I bought in 1972 which I had planned to have framed but never did. I framed it & gave to my son Craig for his birthday in February. His Father was a longtime professional pilot. He died in August and I thought it fitting in memory of him. Letty, thank you for sharing this. Connie CW

  4. I used to recite this with the TV. It was one of my mom's favorites along with Flanders Field. Cathy W

  5. Interesting, I didn't know that the poem's author died while training to be an RAF pilot.

    Really sad, isn't it, but his life certainly had purpose.

    Yes. Just think of how many people his poem inspired. Pam GK